Orangeburg County is preparing to turn a historic downtown building over to Claflin University.

The university has received a $3 million in federal funds to improve the Way Building on Memorial Plaza to turn it into the Claflin University Downtown Community Center.

It will house the Claflin University Center for Social Justice, Pathway from Prison program, young professionals’ studio housing and a business incubator site.

The building, which is located at the corner of Russell Street and Church Street, could also house some retail, Orangeburg County Administrator Harold Young said.

Orangeburg County Council on Monday gave unanimous first reading approval to the sale of the property to the university.

While specific details of the contract were not immediately disclosed, Young said the property will most likely be deeded over to the university with an arrangement between the county and the university on the future use of the property.

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The Way Building on Memorial Plaza formerly housed S.H. Kress & Company.

In February 1960, Black students at then-South Carolina State College and then-Claflin College — both are now universities — heard about efforts to integrate lunch counters in Greensboro, N.C. They were inspired to do the same in Orangeburg.

When local students were turned away from the Kress lunch counter in Orangeburg, they began a series of sit-ins. Kress then closed its lunch counter. Other downtown store owners reacted in similar fashion.

The Way Property Company Inc. eventually purchased the 31,000-square-foot building.

Way Property Company LLC offered the property — as is — to Orangeburg County for $10 in 2012.

Orangeburg County then entered into an agreement with the Shuler Group Inc. for the property in July 2017.

“We have been approached by Claflin to take over that agreement we originally had with the Shuler Group,” Young told County Council on Monday.

He said all the legal due diligence has been done to end the county’s agreement with the Shuler Group.

“We want to extend this opportunity to Claflin University to do further development on the Kress facility to help with our mission to assist the city in the revitalization of downtown Orangeburg,” he said.

Young said there is still capital project sales tax money set aside for improving the Way Building. The money has been used to remove asbestos from the building.

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